Interview with Helen Sowers at her home in Mt. Holly Springs Pennsylvania on July 15th 2002 as a part of the Cumberland County Women During World War II Oral History Project. Sowers discusses growing up during the Great Depression in Mount Holly Springs, Pennsylvania, working in the C. H. Maslands and Sons factory, and as a volunteer airplane spotter in Mount Holly Springs. Sowers also talks about the difficulty of rationing for a large family.
Lorraine (Harris) Humer was born July 31st, 1922 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Her parents were born in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. Mrs. Humer has two older sisters. When the war broke out, she was a freshman at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In 1942, she left Dickinson to study nursing at the Johns Hopkins Hospital School of Nursing School in Baltimore, Maryland. The following year, she enlisted in the Cadet Nurses Corps and served while continuing her training at Johns Hopkins Hospital. During this time at John Hopkins, she served in the Cadet Nurses Corps until 1945. After the war, she worked for a year as a nurse in Baltimore and then returned to Carlisle where she worked as a visiting nurse. She also married and had three children. She currently lives in Carlisle. She finds history to be extremely interesting and volunteers to give tours of historic Carlisle Pennsylvania.
Lorraine Humer began the interview by saying how, before the war; she attended Dickinson College from 1940-1942. She then recollects the bombing of Pearl Harbor when she was a freshman in college and how she knew her college life would change, how her community responded in alarm, and how it affected her family. She then continued to describe how she became involved in the Cadet Nurse Corps program through school, her difficult but good training, her duties as a trained nurse, and how her family felt that her joining was just part of the war effort. She began to describe in detail her duties washing patients, doing different treatments and how she handled Intensive Care Unit patients at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Then she described what she and her friends did for fun, such as go to the symphony and go out to eat.
Mrs. Humer continued by recalling V-E and V-J day and how there was a huge celebration even though it meant the end of her cadet nurse days. She felt as though she contributed greatly to the war effort and that the war changed her life. She continued by giving information on how the Cadet Nurse Corps (Program) began in 1943 and lasted until 1948, reading from a prepared history of the program (attached to the end of this transcript). Also she talks about how her family dealt with rationing and how she began school near the end of the depression that made it possible for her to get a job at school through one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s social benefit programs.
The following transcription is based on a tape-recorded interview that is available from the library of the Cumberland County Historical Society located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The project’s intent in transcribing the interview was to create a clean, readable text with out sacrificing the original language. Because written English differs from original language, the project adopted conventions to deal with the variations. No words have been added or changed, and no changes have been made in grammar or sentence structure. Words or short phrases added to clarify text always appear in brackets; longer explanations will be placed in footnotes. Likewise, description of non-verbal signs, such as nods of the head to indicate agreement or disagreement, have been noted in brackets. In preparing the text, the transcriber omitted false starts and filler words such as “you know” or “um.” The transcription does not include language from the interviewer that is purely procedural (such as references to turning over the tape) or language that repeats or rephrases a question. No attempt was made to preserve the dialect or pronunciations of the interviewee since the original tapes are available for those interested on those aspects of the interview. (Based on the methodology used by the Wisconsin Women During World War Two Oral History Project)
Heather Egan: Could you describe to me what you were doing before the war began?
Lorraine Humer: Well I was a student in high school and then I was a student at Dickinson from 1940 to 1942
HE: Where were you when you heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?
LH: I was in Carlisle. I was a freshman at Dickinson at that time.
HE: And how did you react?
LH: Well, it was very alarming because I was at Dickinson and right away we knew a lot of people there will be going into the service you know, we wouldn’t have normal, shall we say, college life from then on.
HE: And how did your community respond? Either your college community or all of Carlisle?
LH: Well I’m sure everybody was alarmed, everybody thinking what was going to happen to them in particular and their plans.
HE: And how did the war affect you and your family’s daily life?
LH: Well, during the war I was in nursing school but I had two older sisters who were married and their husbands were both in the service at that time and my sister’s husbands were stationed in various places, so it affected quite a bit.
HE: Did you do things like conservation and rationing, and could you tell us just a little bit about that?
LH: I was in nursing school but we definitely had ration coupons and so on, that sort of thing. And of course there was the gas shortage and all that.
HE: How did you become involved with the Cadet Nurse Corps?
LH: Well I went to nursing school in 1942. I had planned to go and then the war effort was on and the civilian hospitals were having a shortage of nurses because their graduates were going into the service. So this was created and this bill was signed by President Roosevelt in 1943 and the idea was to get students in the hospitals to staff the hospitals, so that’s how it was formed. So when this happened, at my nursing school just about everybody signed up, you got a lot of benefits. Of course, you were supposed to serve in the hospitals or the military during the war, and just as I graduated, the war was over in 1945, but we did staff the hospitals, we did do our war work that way.
HE: What was your training like?
LH: Well we had excellent training, first of all we were students, but since there was quite a shortage of nurses we were given a lot of responsibilities. Soon as we went they usually had six months of just preliminary work but we were put on the floors, we really served the hospital and the thing was, that we had to assume a lot of responsibility because there weren’t any graduates, very few around.
HE: Like what type of responsibilities?
LH: Well like we’d be head nurse on the floor, we would be in critical care, when maybe we hadn’t had much training but we were there because they needed us.
HE: And what were your duties? Like what did you have to do?
LH: Well we had the usual nursing program, we went in various services, like you had medical floors, surgical floors, obstetrics, pediatrics, and so on. So you had your regular program that you had to study to qualify.
HE: Why did you become involved?
LH: With nursing? I always wanted to be a nurse, I don’t know why. I really felt it was a profession that I was very interested in. It was very interesting and I went to this big hospital which is a world famous place and you saw a lot of interesting cases that you wouldn’t see other places, because people come there from all over the world with special medical problems.
HE: Is that why you became involved with the Cadet Nurses?
LH: Well the Cadet Nurse Corps was definitely a war effort and I felt I should join that, too. Most of our student did join that. There were a few who did not, but I definitely thought that I should become involved with that war effort.
HE: How did your family feel about you becoming involved with the Cadet Nurse program?
LH: Well I felt, I think they felt, you know this was just war time, whatever was necessary, and you see we stayed at the same hospital it’s just we had the same nursing school training except, of course, the Cadet Nurse Corps paid for your expenses. It was a situation during the war, everybody was trying to do their best you know for the war effort, whatever.
HE: And did you feel like you were contributing to the war effort?
LH: Definitely. Oh yes.
HE: Could you describe what your schedule was like during the day in the Cadet Nurse program?
LH: Yeah. Well we were in nursing school and we worked very, very hard. We worked like six days a week, like eight hours a day, and when we went on duty we had a lot of responsibilities. You know you had to have certain training and so on, but in those days we did all the nursing care, like bathing the patients and doing all the different treatments that they got, and helped with deliveries, everything that you would ordinarily do. In those days they didn’t I.C.U.’s [Intensive Care Units]. You had your very sick patients right on the floor where you were working and so you had a lot of responsibilities.
HE: What hospital did you work at and what was it like?
LH: Well I was at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
HE: What did you do for fun?
LH: Hey that’s a good question. Well, I had a very good friend and [laughs]--you work so hard and you see a lot of sadness and you had a lot of responsibilities, I keep saying that, you needed to get away a little bit--so where we lived--John Hopkins Hospitals is right down in a very very, what shall I say, sort of a slum area. But near that hospital, it’s like a little town and in that little area where they had all those stores, not too far from where we lived, was a movie theater. I think we saw every show, and these were the days before T.V, and I tell you I think we saw every show [smiles] and then we would go down town and go to things in the city.
HE: Like what type of things?
LH: Well there was the Baltimore Symphony, there were some very good places to eat in the city, we used to go out to eat, that sort of thing.
HE: Sounds like fun. Do you remember V-E and V-J day and how did you feel?
LH: V-E day was Europe?
LH: Well you felt very happy, it seemed like the war was ending and V-E day, yes was I think in May of ’45. Any how, V-J day, when the war was over on September 2, 1945, I’ll never forget it, it was a big celebration, now everywhere, but I was in Baltimore. People were in the streets you know, there were parades, everyone was so excited And then see, I hadn’t graduated, I graduated a couple of weeks later, but we were very, very happy about it and everybody was relieved because we’d been under such stress, everybody’s family was affected.
HE: Was there some sort of sadness knowing that the Cadet Nurses Corps would possibly be ending?
LH: No I don’t think so, that was more or less a wartime effort and when I graduated, I got a very good job as a supervisor of psychiatry and the reason why I got that, a lot of the graduates weren’t back, I was just a young graduate and I felt that I had very good preparation, I had a lot of experience that maybe I would not have gotten if there had been more nurses available in the hospitals. So no. I just had a feeling this was just part of the war effort I was glad it was over.
HE: How did your life change when the war was over?
LH: How did my life change? Well I worked in Baltimore a year then I came back to Carlisle and I was a visiting nurse and my life changed in that I moved back to this area.
HE: How did the war, World War II overall change your life, such as traveling and friends or would your life have been different?
LH: I guess, I don’t know. It changed everybody who had this war experience, we were all relieved when it was over and we took a different way of thinking about life. We’ve been through so much and then it was a matter of readjusting to the civilian life. When the people who’d been in the service came back, they usually went back to school, everybody was trying to get reorganized, you might say after that. Families that had been separated got back together. And I went to Dickinson, as I told you two years, and then I went to nursing school, but a lot of the people, for instance, at Dickinson the men went in the service, well then they came back and then they wanted to finish their schooling--you know there was the G.I Bill. And like my husband had started law school, and now this was before my time, before we were married [laughs], he came back then to finish law school. People started sort of finish what they had been doing and went on from there.
HE: Did you meet your husband through your job?
LH: Well we were both from Carlisle, and so when I came back here to work I knew my husband, I mean I knew who he was [smiles] and so we were both from Carlisle.
HE: When you worked in Baltimore, just going back to your experience with the Cadet Nurse Corps, were all the nurses from Carlisle?
LH: No, you see this Cadet Nurse Corps was made for everybody in the whole country. Now in Baltimore, at Johns Hopkins we had students from all over the United States. For instance, of course there were nursing schools in Harrisburg, and all different places, they might have had more local people, but my best friend was from California. We had people from all over the United States, and this Cadet Nurse Corps definitely brought girls into nursing and so it was a big thing to be involved in nursing at that time because there was quite a shortage.
HE: Do you have anything you would like to add about your experience that I haven’t asked about?
LH: Well all I can say is I think it was a very unique experience. In fact, when I read about this, your doing this survey, I felt this is something that shouldn’t be forgotten. Now it was only in existence five years, and of course there was no nursing school in Carlisle so people weren’t talking about it here, but it was a United States project for girls to get into nursing at that time and I felt it shouldn’t be forgotten because I felt we did a lot. As a matter of fact, this is something very interesting, I just had some notification of some officials in nursing. They’re trying to get this--see we did all this service during the war--they’re trying to get us on a veteran’s status, now that would mean you would get certain benefits and so on. I understand it’s in committee in Congress, and this person that wrote to me, gave me the forms and how to do it, and I wrote to my congressman, I wrote to Todd Platts, you know my representative and I wrote to [U.S. Senator] Rick Santorum and [U.S. Senator] Arlen Spector, to vote for this, so I don’t know where it is at this point, but as I understand it’s in committee trying to get this bill to go through, to recognize these people that did all of this.
HE: Just a quick question, I know you talked about joining and everything, but I just wanted to know why exactly did, I understand that you did it because you wanted to help out with the wartime effort, but was there anything else?
LH: I think all these nursing schools wanted their students to join. First of all it got the students into the school, now I was already there before it started, but you see it paid their tuition, and it paid for their textbooks, and all this sort of thing, and the schools, this was very helpful to them, to have all these girls there and it gave them this income for all these students.
HE: And just again, when did you join and how long were in the Cadet Nurse Corps?
LH:I joined in 1943 until 1945. Now nursing schools takes three years, or my program did and the first year it hadn’t been formed, I was there, but when it started in 1943, I joined and then when I finished in 1945, you know I was not eligible to be in it because I was a graduate, and then it [the Cadet Nurses Corps] went on until 1948.
HE: Go ahead.
LH: [reads a prepared written statement. A copy is attached at the end of interview, the original is in her donor file.]
LH: So I thought I kept them [the Cadet Nurses Corps uniforms] all this time, I had them in perfect condition, but they were really museum pieces and so [I donated them to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation on May 16, 2000], did you ever hear of that memorial? Do you know where Arlington cemetery is? It’s very interesting, have you ever been there?
LH: The Women’s Memorial? Well you know, they have uniforms from all different wars, all different services, and I contacted them, I also had contacted my nursing school, but they didn’t have room to display that kind of thing. Besides, I felt more people would see them down there in Arlington because that’s where a lot of people, go to sight-see and I felt very good about getting them to a place where they would be preserved.
HE: Now the hospital that you worked at, was that a civilian or military hospital?
LH: No it was a civilian hospital. See these Cadet Nurses were in civilian hospitals trying to ease the shortage of nurses in civilian hospitals. And in the Cadet Nurse Program, sometimes they transferred some of the girls to some other hospitals, maybe just for a couple of months, like a military hospital, just for a few months if any, I didn’t do that. But I think it was a very good program, it accomplished its purpose.
HE: Now while in college did you have to deal with rationing and things like…
LH: No not in college, but when I went nursing school, you had ration books, and you had to turn them in cause that way they could get sugar allowance and meat and that sort of thing. People in their homes of course used them when they went to shop, but in my case, they had my book down there. Hey I tell you, it was a very interesting time and a very difficult time to go through that experience because there were so many people in the service, you know what I mean? Every body was involved in someway.
LH: What do you want me to tell you about the depression?
HE: Just like how you were saying that you didn’t have a lot of money when you went off to college.
LH: When I went to college I did not have much money to go on, I did have a scholarship but during the depression days, I went to college about the end of the depression, but President Roosevelt made a lot of these social benefits and one was for students and when I was in college I had a job, it was on one of these student benefit things, and I worked for the Dean of Women, I was sort of like her receptionist, due to these programs that were made at that time, to help all different types of programs. And so I got that when I was in college through one of those programs.
[end of interview]